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Prop. S set-aside would fund arts, family homelessness programs

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The orchestra warms up at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, Calif. (Cindy Chew/2007 S.F. Examiner)

For decades San Francisco’s hotel taxes went directly to specific art and tourist infrastructure. But over the years The City moved away from that model.

But this November voters will be asked to reestablish that dedicated funding. Specifically, they will be asked to set aside specific funding for arts and family homelessness programs by tweaking how hotel tax funds are distributed.

Proposition S, or the San Francisco Arts and Family Funding Ordinance, will at first give 16 percent of The City’s base hotel room rental tax to dedicated funds for arts and homeless services. It would not raise taxes, but change the way they are allocated.

“It’s a way to pay homage to a historic San Francisco that used to be more creative and compassionate,” said Jasmine Conrad, campaign coordinator for Prop. S.

The City currently has a 14 percent base hotel room rental tax — about $380 million in an average year. Under the proposition, $69 million of that (16 percent) would go toward specific arts and homeless family programs starting in fiscal year 2017-18 and would grow to (21 percent) or $103 million by 2020-21.

That would be a major boost from what The City is set to spend on such things in 2017-18. The City’s budget allocation for that year is projected to be $26 million from the general fund to pay for arts and homeless family programs that fiscal year.

The measure would guarantee, and set, how those funds are paid for instead of deciding their funding in each budget, according to the proposition.

Specifically, the measure would give the Arts Commission 2.9 percent of the $103 million; the War Memorial would receive 5.8 percent; the Grants for the Arts Program would receive 7.5 percent by 2020; the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund would receive 7.5 percent by 2020. The Moscone Center would receive up to 50 percent or about $50 million.

The measure’s Ending Family Homelessness Fund would receive 6.3 percent of the $103 million, and be used for subsidies and case management programs for homeless families. It would also provide services to low-income families that are at risk of becoming homeless; and develop, rehabilitate and acquire new housing for homeless families.

This measure would also establish the Neighborhood Arts Program Fund, which each year would receive 6 percent of those funds. For more than five decades, starting in 1961, The City’s hotel taxes have helped pay for arts funding, but by 2013 that dedicated link was severed after several years of declining funding.

During that same period, funds given to the arts from The City have fluctuated in times of economic turmoil, which has created instability for arts organizations, according to supporters of the measure.

The measure, according to the controller, would impact other services. “As these funds are shifted to these uses, spending reductions or new revenues would need to be identified to maintain services levels in other service areas,” noted the controller’s analysis.

The measure was authored by Supervisor Eric Mar and has no listed opponents. To pass, it requires at least two-thirds of the vote.

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